The Progressive Alliance – first challenge

The Richmond By election before Christmas was a welcome victory but was largely a one off event. It appeared to show support for the Progressive Alliance strategy backed by Compass, but polls show less that this was an anti Tory vote than an anti-Brexit vote. Brexit is the defining issue of 2017. In Richmond, an pro Leave Tory was on a loser in a pro Remain constituency. Brexit dominates and this affects the Progressive Alliance strategy. The defining issue is not Tory V Anti Tory, but Leave V Remain. The country remains split and this is the factor that determines the political agenda.

In Richmond I would have voted Lib Dem, to defeat a Tory-UKIP backed candidate. Tim Fallon claimed the Lib Dems are back, but there are a string of Liberal by election victories back to Orpington (1962) which proved false. What it did show was that in strong Remain areas, the Lib Dem Remain stance is popular. But the other side of the coin is that in strong Leave areas both Labour and the Lib Dems – not to mention the Greens – are vulnerable to the UKIP Leave campaign, now joined by the Tories.

UKIP being second in 41 Labour seats, could pose a real challenge in Labour heartlands. And indeed the Tory Party can take Labour voters if they are successful in negotiation and Brexit remains the dominant fact of British political lie. . With a recent poll showing only 15% of Leave voters intending to voter Labour, the issue is stark. For Labour there is a real danger if the Lib Dems soak up pro Remain Labour Voters and UKIP/Tories soak up pro Leave Labour voters, lessening Labour’s core vote.

Labour failed to have by-election strategy in Richmond, linked to its lack of clarity over Brexit. However for the moment its the by election factor that needs attention. Labour can hold the line on its current position for the moment, but only if it manages to hold the Copeland by election in Cumbria. And that puts the Progressive Alliance strategy in the spotlight.

Copeland is Richmond in reverse. In Richmond a strong Remain electorate with the Greens backing the Lib Dems faced a Tory Leave Candidate backed by UKIP, and the Tories lost the seat. In Copeland a narrow Labour majority is threatened by a Leave supporting electorate. Some commentators think the Government could take the seat off the opposition for the first time since 1960. But the reality is less favourable for May, as the Leave vote is split between UKIP and Tory. I take it as read that Labour must seek to win the seat. Anti Corbyn sentiment is ludicrous, revolutionary defeatism does not work – for New Labour or the hard left.. Labour needs to lose the seat like it needs a hole in the head. And it can win, with difficulty, though the stats show the voters are moving to the right.

Elections in Copeland

2010 2015
Lab 19,699 Lab 16,750
Tory 14,186 Tory 14,186
Lib Dem 4,365 UKIP 6,148
BNP 1,474 Lib Dem 1,368
UKIP 994 Green 1,179
Green 389
Turnout % 67.6 63.8

With the BNP collapsed, the result in 2015 mirrored the Referendum vote with a slight majority of the voters in the General Election voting for Leave Parties – as the Tories must now be seen as Leave. Totals on the Big Issue of Britexit are as follows:

Leave Votes Remain Votes
Tory 15,866 Labour 16,750
UKIP 6,148 Lib Dem 1,368
Green 1,179
TOTAL 20,334 19,297

If the Tories can persuade UKIP to stand down and get their voters, with two thirds of the voters on June 23rd voting Leave, the seat is theirs. But UKIP needs to keep the pressure up on May, and the fear of a right wing victory should be worrying Greens and Lib Dems. For the Greens, there is no point in another Lost Deposit.

For Tim Fallon, life is more difficult. If the Lib Dems are serious about opposing Brexit, his party can’t afford a Brexit Victory in Copeland. Yet he is a Cumbria MP. He is trapped between supporting Labour as the Progressive candidate and his Party loyalties. This will be a test case for the Compass supported Progressive Alliance theory.

Only one thing is clear. No one on the Progressive Centre Left gains from UKIP or the Tories winning the Copeland By Election. There is no revolutionary defeatist position, whatever the New Labour Right or Hard Left may think. In Copeland, anything but a Labour win, however narrow the margin, is a major setback.

Trevor Fisher
8th January 2017

 

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